Stephen Layton and Polyphony have a long and fruitful relationship with the music of Arvo Pärt. Their recording of Triodion and other choral works (CDA67375) won a Gramophone Award and became a cult classic. The extraordinary purity of Polyphony’s singing is the perfect vehicle for music of such clean, elemental simplicity, such cathartic calm. This third Pärt album from Stephen Layton and Polyphony reaches right back, intriguingly, to the composer’s youthful modernist phase and spans nearly five decades—from 1963 to 2012—in the process. As with the album Triodion, it reflects an increasingly broad spread of languages and sources in Pärt’s chosen texts. Latin, German and English are joined here by Church Slavonic and Spanish. A range of biblical texts are set alongside ancient prayers.
The symphonies of Arvo Pärt will surprise anyone familiar with his contemplative, mature style. Pärt began life as a member of the Eastern European modern school, not so far removed from contemporaries such as Penderecki and Górecki. His three symphonies show his gradual renunciation of the more radical aspects of his musical syntax, a return to emotional directness, and the beginnings of that otherworldly quality that has become the outstanding feature of his later work. Not all listeners have traveled the path with him, some finding his recent music tedious and pretentious rather than spiritual, and these three relatively early symphonies really do add a welcome depth and roundness of profile to a composer who can all too easily seem one-dimensional. It's important to keep in mind that, unlike so many members of today's pseudospiritual school of composers (England's John Tavener being the prime example), Pärt is a real composer operating even in the most mystical musings. Järvi deserves real credit for calling attention to this fact in such a powerful way.